Bill C-35 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Vic Toews Conservative
Not active, as of June 5, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that the accused will be required to demonstrate, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, that pre-trial detention is not justified in their case and to introduce additional factors relating to firearm offences that the courts must take into account in deciding whether an accused should be released or detained pending trial.
- March 27, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to a legislative committee.
October 30th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to be joined at the table by Catherine Kane, the acting senior general counsel, criminal law policy section; and Douglas Hoover, counsel, criminal law policy section.
Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to appear before your committee as it begins its review of Bill C-10, the Tackling Violent Crime Act.
This is the government's first piece of legislation in this session of Parliament. The Tackling Violent Crime Act underscores our commitment to safeguard Canadians in their homes and on their streets and in their communities. It is a confidence measure. Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment by the Government of Canada.
As a confidence measure, Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment.
Canadians are losing confidence in our criminal justice system. They want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter violent crime. They want a justice system that imposes penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes and that rehabilitate offenders to prevent them from reoffending. Bill C-10 seeks to restore Canadians' confidence in our system by restoring their safety and security in their communities, and this is in fact what is reflected in the preamble to Bill C-2.
The proposed Tackling Violent Crime Act brings together five criminal law reform bills that we introduced in the previous session of Parliament. One of them, Bill C-10, imposed higher mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for eight specific offences involving the use of restricted or prohibited firearms or in connection with organized crime, which of course includes gangs, and also for offences that do not involve the actual use of a firearm--namely, firearm trafficking or smuggling--or the illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-10 as passed by the House of Commons.
It also includes one of my favourites, Bill C-22, which increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age to protect young people against adult sexual predators. There is proposed, as I'm sure you are aware, a five-year close-in-age exception to prevent the criminalization of sexual activity between consenting teenagers. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces Bill C-22 as passed by the House of Commons.
It also includes Bill C-32, which addressed impaired driving by proposing the legislative framework for the drug recognition expert program and requiring participation in roadside and drug recognition expert sobriety testing; by simplifying the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving; and by proposing procedural and sentencing changes, including creating the new offences of being “over 80” and refusing to provide a breath sample where the person's operation of the vehicle has caused bodily harm or death. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-32 as amended and reported back from the justice committee.
We also have Bill C-35, which imposes a reverse onus for bail for accused charged with any of eight serious offences committed with a firearm, with an indictable offence involving firearms or other regulated weapons if committed while under a weapons prohibition order, or with firearm trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking and firearm smuggling. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-35 as passed by the House of Commons.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act also reintroduces reforms proposed by the former Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, with additional improvements.
As I have noted, and with the exception of the dangerous offenders reforms, all of these reforms have been thoroughly debated, reviewed, and supported in the House of Commons.
These reforms included in Bill C-27 had not progressed to the same level of understanding and support in the previous session and now include additional improvements to address concerns that have been identified in the House of Commons as well as by my provincial and territorial counterparts. Let me take a moment to go through these reforms.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act retains all of the reforms previously proposed in Bill C-27 regarding peace bonds, which had been well received within the House of Commons and beyond. Accordingly, Bill C-10 proposes to double the maximum duration of these protective court orders from one to two years and to clarify that the court can impose a broad range of conditions to ensure public safety, including curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment, and drug and alcohol prohibitions.
I believe this particular provision will be well received across this country. Many people have complained for many years that by the time you get a one-year peace bond, it's too short a period of time, and that two years would be much more appropriate in terms of getting the bond and having it put in place.
Under this bill as well as under the former Bill C-27, crown prosecutors will still have to declare in open court whether or not they intend to bring a dangerous offender application where an individual is convicted for a third time of a serious offence.
We have retained some procedural enhancements to the dangerous offenders procedures, allowing for more flexibility regarding the filing of the necessary psychiatric assessments.
As in the former Bill C-27, an individual who is convicted of a third sufficiently violent or sexual offence is still presumed dangerous.
Bill C-10 also toughens the sentencing provision regarding whether a dangerous offender should receive an indeterminate or a less severe sentence. This amendment modifies Bill C-27's approach to make the courts impose a sentence that ensures public safety.
Finally, it includes a new provision that would allow a crown prosecutor to apply for a second dangerous offender sentencing hearing in the specific instance where an individual is convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision order.
This second hearing targets individuals who were found by the original court to meet the dangerous offender criteria but were nonetheless able to satisfy the court that they could be managed under the lesser long-term offender sentence. If they show by their conduct, once released into the community, that they are not manageable and are convicted of the offence of breaching a condition of their supervision order, they would now be subject to another dangerous offender sentence hearing.
Importantly, this new proposal does not wait for the offender to commit yet another sexual assault or violent offence to bring the offender back for a second hearing for a dangerous offender sentence. Instead, it would be triggered simply by the offender's failure to comply with the conditions of his release contained in his long-term supervision order--for example, for failing to return to his residence before curfew or for consuming alcohol or drugs. Of course, this second hearing would also be triggered if the offender in fact did commit a further sexual or violent offence after his release into the community.
These new proposals directly respond to a serious problem identified by provincial and territorial attorneys general in recent months. Indeed, some of these issues have been flagged since about 2003. Since the 2003 judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Johnson case, many violent offenders who meet the dangerous offender criteria have nonetheless managed to escape its indeterminate sentence on the basis that they could be managed; that is, the risk of harm that they pose to the community could be successfully managed in the community under a long-term offender sentence.
So we reviewed the dangerous offender cases since the 2003 Johnson case and identified 74 such violent offenders. We then looked at how these individuals fared once they were released into the community. To date, 28 of these 74 dangerous offenders have been released into the community. Of these 28, over 60% were subsequently detained for breaching the conditions of their long-term supervision and 10 were convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision orders.
Bill C-10 will prevent dangerous offenders from escaping the dangerous offender indeterminate sentence in the first place and will enable us to more effectively deal with those who nonetheless receive the long-term offender sentence but then demonstrate an inability to abide by the conditions of their long-term offender supervision order.
Of course I have carefully considered the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights in respect of the totality of these new dangerous offender reforms, and I am satisfied that they are fully constitutional. These measures have been carefully tailored to provide a prospective, targeted, and balanced response to the real and pressing problem posed by these dangerous offenders.
To sum up, Mr. Chairman, the Tackling Violent Crime Act proposes reforms that have already been supported by the House of Commons.
In the case of the new dangerous offender provisions, it proposes modifications that many have signalled an interest in supporting.
I appreciate the collaborative spirit this committee and members have shown thus far to enable the commencement of the review of Bill C-10, and it is my hope and that of all Canadians that this collaboration will continue to enable expeditious passage of this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip
Mr. Speaker, as I have done with all the speeches this afternoon, I listened with great interest to the words of my colleagues from the opposition parties. I would like to take this opportunity to perhaps correct some of the motives the member attributes to the Conservative government in bringing forward this tackling violent crime act, Bill C-2, and then pose a question.
Toward the end of his remarks he asserted that our government is driven by partisan political considerations. I would like to state for the record that no, what we are driven by here is to try to reform our justice system or, maybe more appropriately, that we are driven by a desire to restore fairness and justice to our legal system in this country.
That is the real reason behind the fact that in our short-lived government we have brought forward so many new initiatives in the justice department. In fact, he mentioned the fact that we brought forward a dozen bills alone in this Parliament already.
The other fallacy that I would like to quickly correct for the record is this whole business that somehow by combining these bills we are going to delay them. The fact is, and my colleague clearly identified this, Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, encompasses some five previous bills. I will run through them very quickly.
Previously, Bill C-10, mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 252 days and the bill died after a total of 414 days before Parliament.
Bill C-22, age of protection, was stalled in committee for 175 days and the bill died after a total of 365 days before Parliament.
Bill C-27, dangerous offenders, was stalled in committee for 105 days and the bill died after a total of 246 days before Parliament.
Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 64 days and the bill died after a total of 211 days before Parliament.
Finally, Bill C-32, drug impaired driving, was stalled in committee for 149 days and the bill died after a total of 210 days before Parliament.
I think Canadians are waking up to the fact that a lot of these bills were stalled in the upper chamber in our parliamentary system. What are we talking about? We are talking about an unelected, unaccountable, Liberal dominated Senate. In other words, an upper chamber dominated by our process in this Parliament by the opposition.
Obviously, even the temporary current leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has no control over the Senate. He has no control over his colleagues over there in getting this legislation moved forward.
In the last election campaign, all four parties running in the election said they wanted to get tough with violent crime. Yet, when we put this legislation through, the Liberals allowed it to be stalled over there. What have we done? We have combined them because the Senate will be less able to stall one or two bills because Canadians will be awakened to the fact that if the Liberals stall Bill C-2, they will clearly understand that the Liberal Party has never been serious about violent crime. It says one thing but does the opposite.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.
First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.
Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.
I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.
Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.
As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.
In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.
Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?
We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.
Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.
This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.
Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.
If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.
If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.
I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?
I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.
The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.
Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.
The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.
Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.
However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.
What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.
We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.
Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.
We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.
We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.
The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?
There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?
Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.
Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.
As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.
As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.
Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.
We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I did not realize we were going to be moving on this quickly, which is a good development because it will move these bills along, as opposed to the government's approach, which has been one of delay.
In that regard, I want to do a quick resumé of what has happened in this Parliament starting in roughly mid-February of 2006, at which time we were faced with a large number of crime bills by the government. I took the opportunity to go through the list of bills that have been dealt with in one form or another.
The list was quite lengthy, starting with Bill C-9, which was a bill on conditional sentencing. That went through both Houses and has royal assent. There was one on the Judges Act, Bill C-17, and it also went through all stages. Another one relating to DNA identification went through all stages. As for Bill C-19 on street racing, a particularly emotional point for the Conservative Party, we got that one through. There was one on criminal interest rates, Bill C-26, and it got through. There was one, Bill C-48, which dealt with international crime syndicates and the need to fight corruption at that level, coming out of the UN, and it got through. The next one, dealing with the illegal recording of movies, went very quickly through the House with all parties cooperating. It never even went to committee.
In addition to that, we have had Bill C-22, which actually is part of Bill C-2, the bill that is before us now, passed at second reading in the Senate. It went through the House all the way to the Senate. We have had Bill C-10, an important bill on mandatory minimums, go through this House and into the Senate, where it was at first reading.
Similarly, Bill C-23 went through this House and got to the Senate, but it is not part of this bill. I am not sure if the government is going to bring that one back or not. On Bill C-35, which was the bill dealing with bail reviews involving alleged gun crimes and the reverse onus being placed, again, it got through all the work in this House and went to the Senate.
The final bill with regard to work that we had done and which was almost through this House was the bill dealing with impaired driving. That had cleared the committee and was coming back to the House. It would have been back in the House if we had not prorogued in the middle part of September.
These are all the bills we have had from the government. The final bill was still in committee and we had just started on it. We had three or four meetings taking witnesses on that bill, which deals with dangerous offenders and amendments to recognizance in the Criminal Code.
In addition, there were at least four to six private members' bills, all of them coming from the Conservative Party interestingly enough, which we dealt with and passed or dealt with in some fashion. One had to be withdrawn. We dealt with those as well.
All of that work was being done at the justice committee, with the exception, and this is really interesting, of two bills that went to special legislative committees. Because the justice committee's workload was so great, we moved them into special committees. However, we worked on those bills and got them through.
All of that is work we have done in a little over 18 months, yet in spite of that, there are two things the government does. It constantly complains about the length of time it takes, in regard to which the Conservatives could have done much better by originally having omnibus bills. I have said that in the House to the point where I am almost sick of hearing it myself, and I am sure everyone else in the House is, but it is the way they should have conducted themselves. Of course, though, because of their political agenda of wanting to highlight each one of these bills, they did not put them together. They finally came to their senses and realized that it is a way of moving bills through the House more rapidly.
However, we did all of that work, and now what we are hearing, which is the second point I want to make about the government, is that the delay is the fault of the opposition. That is absolutely false.
One can see from the length of the list of bills we have had to deal with, plus the private members' bills, plus working on two legislative committees in addition to all the work that we have done at justice, that nobody in the opposition has done any delaying. The delay with regard to the five bills that are incorporated now into Bill C-2 is entirely at the feet of the government. It prorogued and that cost us a month.
It is interesting to note what could have happened in that one month's time. It is my opinion that all three of the bills that were in the Senate would have been through and ready for royal assent, which again is in the hands of the government. If the government had conducted itself with any kind of efficiency, those bills probably would be law today.
The fourth bill, the one dealing with impaired driving, which again is part of Bill C-2, would have come to the House in the middle part of September when we came back. There was not a great deal of debate, and although I and my party have some reservations about it, we in fact would support it.
The bill would have had some debate in the House at report stage and third reading, but it would have been through the House and at least at first reading in the Senate now, perhaps at second reading. It is not beyond the pale to think that the bill also would have cleared the Senate and would have been ready for royal assent.
This bill bothers me. Of all the ones we have, this one bothers me the most because of the conduct of the government in dealing with the individuals, including the police officers and police associations, who lobbied really heavily to get this legislation, and in particular the families and supporters of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It bothers me that the government would have misused the loyalty and the support that those groups had given to the bill by leading them to believe that somehow it was the opposition that was holding it up, when in fact it was prorogation. Now there is this tactic of combining that bill with the other bills to actually slow down its passage. Otherwise there is a reasonably good chance it would have been law by now, and if not, it would have been in its final stages at the Senate and it certainly would have been law by the end of the year.
That is much less likely to happen now. It is more likely that this bill will not get final approval and royal assent until well into the spring, no matter what the government tries to do. Quite frankly we will do whatever we can to be cooperative in moving these bills forward.
Our party was quite prepared to have all four of those bills that I have mentioned which form 80% of Bill C-2 back at their original stages, again so they would be law or on the verge of becoming law, that is, receiving royal assent today, as opposed to what is likely to happen now. It is going to be into the new year and maybe well into the spring before these bills become law, assuming of course that the government does not collapse and there is an election, which is another problem.
The government has delayed it, and in addition, it has clearly pushed it back at least until the new year, with the real possibility of an election intervening and a number of these provisions never seeing the light of day until after the election, when we would come back and start the process all over again.
That is reprehensible conduct on the part of the government. The only reason the Conservatives are doing it is so they can stand up in public and say, “We are tough on crime”. They do the macho thing. They beat their chests. They do the King Kong thing as if they are coming out of a jungle. The reality is that the delay is all at their feet.
I am really angry when I think of all the work that so many groups have done, the victims of crime in particular, and now are being misused by the government in such a way.
I am not going to take up much more time but I do want to address the final bill that was at committee. Former Bill C-27 is now part of Bill C-2. It deals with two amendments to the Criminal Code. One would be on the provisions relating to dangerous offenders and the other is with regard to recognizance.
With regard to recognizance, I think I can safely say that all the opposition parties are in support of those provisions. They give additional authority to our judiciary to deal with people who are out in the community on their own recognizance, but we can put additional conditions on them.
The bill provides for things such as requiring them to wear a monitoring device. There is a number of other provisions that would substantially improve security in our communities regarding people who have now been released from charges and who have already served their time. It is a substantial step forward and one that has been needed.
I have said this in the House before, that when I started practising law back in the early 1970s we needed it at that time. Successive governments have tended to shy away from it. Our judiciary has attempted on a number of occasions to introduce these types of control devices, if I could put it that way, in terms of sentencing or conditions imposed on people and it has consistently lost in our courts of appeal. It required legislative intervention. The provision is in this bill and we need to pass that and get it into play so our judges can do a better job of helping protect Canadians, which they want to do.
The other part in this provision, the old Bill C-27 now part of Bill C-2, is with regard to dangerous offenders. We have significant problems with this. Originally when the bill came before the House as Bill C-27, all three opposition parties indicated that on principle they had to vote against it because it has a provision of reverse onus with regard to the dangerous offender.
All of us believe that that part of the bill would suffer a charter challenge that would be successful in striking it down. What I do not think the government has ever understood is that not only would it be struck down, but perhaps the whole dangerous offender section would be struck down. Just as we saw with the security certificates where the Supreme Court said that if it could not be fixed, they were all going down, the same type of thing could happen in a ruling on dangerous offenders. The government has never understood that.
Ultimately, the opposition parties decided that there were perhaps ways of amending this in committee to improve the use of the dangerous offender section, because we know we need to do that, and at the same time make sure that the section was not jeopardized by a successful charter challenge at some point in the future.
We were working on that when we ended in June. We fully expected that was one of the bills for the special legislative committee and that we would be back and working on it in September, that we would complete the witness testimony and improve the bill by way of amendment and if not, then I suppose we would have been faced with a conundrum of whether we could support it or not. That is where we are at this point.
That bill needs significant work in order to be sure that we do not lose the entire dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code. We will be doing that work as soon as we can get the committee up and running again and the bill into the committee.
It is very clear that the government, and I do not say this about the opposition parties, is prepared to play politics with public safety. The Conservatives want to be seen as the champions and they are prepared to take these kinds of manoeuvres of delaying these bills by incorporating them all into Bill C-2 so that they can do that. They want to stand up in the House and in the media and out on the hustings and say “we are the champions of it”, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. They were guilty. They are guilty of delay. The opposition parties are not.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join in the debate on Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
As the Minister of Justice noted when he spoke in reply to the Speech from the Throne, safe streets and secure communities are the Canadian way of life. This is what I would like to focus my remarks on today, how we are building a stronger, safer and better Canada, beginning with Bill C-2.
I have had many opportunities, as probably all members in the House have had, to talk with my constituents, parents, community leaders, police, lawyers, and many others about their concern with crime and what we should do about it.
What I have heard has likely been heard by all hon. members as they have travelled throughout their ridings and indeed across Canada. Canadians are clearly expecting their government to take concrete and effective action to tackle crime.
Unlike previous governments on this issue, the current government listens. We share these concerns and we have made tackling crime a key priority for our government. We have made it a key priority for our government because it is a key priority for Canadians, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
We know what crime looks like in Canada. Crime statistics have been recorded since 1962 so we have 45 years of information. Statistics Canada reported last July that the overall national crime rate has decreased for the second year in a row.
We all want to see a lower crime rate. So this is the good news. But the national crime rate is an average and does not tell us about some of the more serious problems or localized problems.
The long term trends over the last few generations show us what we all know in the House, that crime has increased drastically. Since the 1970s, for example, the violent crime rate has increased 98%, but the national crime rate does not tell us what may be going on in individual communities. Community leaders, victims groups and law enforcement know their particular challenges, and we are listening to them.
Many Canadians have lost confidence in the criminal justice system and question if it is doing enough to protect them. They know that violent crime is all too common. They dread hearing statistics like those released on October 17 by Statistics Canada.
Those statistics tell us that 4 out of 10, or 40% of victims of violent crimes sustained injuries. They tell us that half of violent crimes occurred at private residences. They tell us that firearms were involved in 30% of homicides, 31% of attempted murders and 13% of robberies committed. They tell us that one out of every six victims of violent crimes was a youth aged 12 to 17 years old and children under 12 years of age account for 23% of victims of sexual assaults and 5% of victims of violent crimes.
Canadians are looking to the federal government to work with them to restore community safety. The government understands the need for leadership in criminal justice and this is what our tackling crime priority, and our commitment in this regard is all about. It is about reducing all crime and providing an effective criminal justice system. Our plan is ambitious, but Canadians can count on us to get it done. As they have seen on other issues, we have been able to get things done for all Canadians.
In the last session of Parliament the government tabled 13 crime bills. This is proof of our commitment to address crime and safety issues in our communities. It is interesting to note that it was 13 crime bills as it was 13 years of Liberal governments that have left us with a revolving door justice system in which Canadians have lost faith, a justice system that Canadians feel puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of everyday, law-abiding Canadians. This is what our government is going to address.
Six of these crime bills, of the 13, received royal assent and are now the law or will soon become the law. For example, one of the government's first bills and first priorities was to curtail the use of conditional sentences or house arrest for serious violent crimes.
We all know the issue of house arrest. In all of our ridings we have heard cases where someone has committed a very serious, sometimes violent, crime and there is an expectation in the community that there will be a severe consequence for someone who commits a severe crime. All too often the community is outraged when it hears that criminals will be serving out their sentence from the comfort of their own home.
Bill C-9, which received royal assent on May 31, 2007, and will be coming into force on December 1, 2007, makes it clear that conditional sentences or house arrest will not be an option for serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences, and organized crime offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more.
This change was a long time coming. It is well past due and Canadians will be better served by a justice system that does not allow, for these serious offences, criminals to serve a sentence in their own home. Canadians wanted this change.
Bill C-18 strengthened the laws governing the national DNA data bank. This will facilitate police investigation of crimes. Bill C-18 received royal assent on June 22, 2007. Some provisions are already in force and others will soon be proclaimed in force.
Bill C-19 made Canada's streets safer by enacting new offences to specifically combat street racing. These new offences built upon existing offences, including dangerous driving and criminal negligence, and provide higher maximum penalties of incarceration for the most serious of street racing offences.
As well, mandatory driving prohibition will be imposed on those convicted of street racing. In the most serious cases involving repeat street racing offenders, a mandatory lifetime driving prohibition can now be imposed.
We also took concrete steps to protect users of payday loans. Bill C-26, which received royal assent on May 3, 2007, makes it an offence to enter into an agreement or an arrangement to receive interest at a criminal rate or to receive payment of an interest at a criminal rate. The criminal rate of interest is defined as exceeding 60% per year.
We also took further measures to combat corruption. Bill C-48 enacted Criminal Code amendments to enable Canada to ratify and implement the United Nations convention against corruption on October 2, 2007. By ratifying the convention, Canada has joined 92 other state parties committed to working with the international community to take preventative measures against corruption.
Our bill to stop film piracy or camcording, Bill C-59, received widespread support. It was quickly passed and received royal assent on June 22, 2007.
Unfortunately, none of our other important crime bills progressed to enactment before Parliament prorogued. That is why the tackling violent crime act reintroduces the provisions of the following bills that died on the order paper.
Bill C-22, which increased the age of protection against adult sexual exploitation, has been included, as passed by the House of Commons.
Bill C-32, addressing drug impaired driving and impaired driving in general, has been introduced as amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and reported to the House of Commons.
Bill C-35, imposing a reverse onus for bail for firearms offences, has been included in this new bill, as passed by the House of Commons. This bill will make it tougher for those who have committed a firearms offence to received bail and be back out on the street.
Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, as originally introduced, is included in this bill, but with some further amendments, which I will elaborate on shortly.
The tackling violent crime act respects the parliamentary process and includes the bills as amended by committee or as passed by the House of Commons, and in the same state that they were when Parliament was prorogued. As a result, these reforms are familiar, or should be familiar, to all members of this House, and so I would call on all hon. members to quickly pass the tackling violent crime act.
Indeed, many hon. members have already stated that they support these reforms. There is therefore no need to further debate these reforms or for a prolonged study of the provisions that Parliament has already debated and committees have already scrutinized. It is time for us all to demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding Canadians and for safer communities, and to quickly move this bill forward.
For those who need more convincing, I would like to reiterate that the tackling violent crime act addresses a range of serious issues that put Canadians at risk: gun crimes, impaired driving, sexual offences against children and dangerous offenders.
We know that Canadians expect their government to take action and to protect them from these crimes. To do so, we need the support of all hon. members, as well as Canadians, our partners in the provinces and the territories, and law enforcement and community groups.
Time does not permit me to address each of the equally important elements of Bill C-2. I know that other members will rise to speak to the reforms that are of most concern to them. I propose to highlight a few of the issues that have been raised repeatedly with me by my constituents, and I am sure by constituents in ridings held by all hon. members, in particular, about impaired driving, the age of consent and dangerous offenders.
Alcohol and drug impaired driving have devastating effects for victims, for families and for communities. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries each year, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage.
Once the tackling violent crime act is the law, impaired drivers will face tough punishment, no matter which intoxicant they choose, and police and prosecutors will have the tools that they need to deal with these offences.
Although drug impaired driving has always been a crime, until recently, police have not had the same tools available to stop those who drive while impaired by drugs that they have to address alcohol impaired driving. Under this bill, they will.
The tackling violent crime act strengthens the ability of police, prosecutors and the courts to investigate, prosecute and sentence those who endanger the safety of other Canadians through alcohol or drug impaired driving. I know that all hon. members recognize the pressing need to ensure the safety of our streets, highways, communities and our schools. By giving police the tools they need to combat impaired driving, we are doing that.
These reforms were applauded by the stakeholders and supported in the House of Commons. I am sure every member of Parliament in the House has received correspondence urging them to support the bill. There should be no impediments to making progress on this part of the tackling violent crime act.
The act also reintroduces the reforms to raise the age at which young people can consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age. The bill takes away the ability, and let us be clear on what the bill does, of adult sexual predators to rely on claims that their young victims consented.
Again, these reforms were welcomed by child advocates and supported in the House as part of former Bill C-22, so there is no need for further debate. We can move ahead.
It is worth spending a few moments to focus on the dangerous and high risk offender provisions of former Bill C-27. Some of these provisions have been modified and, therefore, hon. members may want to scrutinize these aspects more than the other reforms included in the tackling violent crime act.
The dangerous offender reforms in Bill C-2 respond to the concerns highlighted in the debates and before the justice committee, and by provincial attorneys general. I am sure that all hon. members will agree that these modifications are welcomed.
As members will recall, former Bill C-27 was tabled in the House last October. That bill included dramatic enhancements to the sentencing and management of the very worst of the worst, those offenders who repeatedly commit violent and sexual crimes and who require special attention, because it has become clear that the regular criminal sentencing regime simply cannot effectively manage the small but violent and dangerous group of offenders.
The tackling violent crime act includes all of the original amendments to the Criminal Code from the former Bill C-27, as well as two important changes which will go further in protecting Canadians from dangerous offenders.
First, let me provide an overview of the provisions brought forward into the House under Bill C-27. It includes the requirement in dangerous offender hearings that an offender be presumed to meet the dangerous offender criteria upon a third conviction for a primary designated offence. In other words, an offence that is on the list of the 12 most violent or sexual offences that typically trigger dangerous offender designations.
Second, the bill would also place a requirement on crown prosecutors to inform the court that they had fully considered whether to pursue a dangerous offender application. This is to prevent these applications from falling through the cracks. This would occur in cases where an offender had been convicted for a third time of a relatively serious sexual or violent offence.
The declaration is intended to ensure more consistent use of the dangerous offender sentence by the Crown in all jurisdictions. Although the Crown must indicate whether it has considered bringing a dangerous offender application, we are not dictating to it that it must do so. We are not attempting to arbitrarily fetter the discretion of the Crown or of the court. Rather, we are providing a way to make sure that the Crown turns its mind to the issue of a dangerous offender application.
Third, Bill C-2 would also bring forward the very significant reforms to the section 810.1 and 810.2 peace bond provisions that enable any person to apply to a court to ask for stringent conditions to be imposed against individuals who are felt to pose a threat of sexual or violent offending in the community.
We have all heard the horror stories from one end of the country to the other of someone who is known to be a threat to commit a sexual or violent offence against an innocent member of the community. There is often great frustration among Canadians at the perceived inability for government, for officials, for police, to act to protect the community from a subsequent violent or sexual offence.
Specifically, we are doubling the duration of peace bonds from one year to two years. We are also providing specific authority for the court to impose conditions regarding curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment requirements and other prohibitions as well as making it very clear that the court may impose any conditions it feels are necessary to ensure public safety.
Since the tabling of the former Bill C-27 last October, provincial attorneys general have raised concerns about violent offenders who are found to be dangerous offenders, but are not receiving indeterminate sentences. This is due to a finding that they could be managed under the long term offender designation.
The long term offender sentencing option currently in the Criminal Code allows a court to sentence an individual to a regular sentence of imprisonment, but add up to 10 years of intensive community supervision to the sentence.
Based on the interpretation of the lower courts of the 2003 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Johnson, many individuals who fully meet the designation of a dangerous offender have nonetheless been given long term offender designation instead. The Crown has been unable to convince the sentencing court that the offenders could not be managed under the less severe sentence option.
The big concern is that some of these individuals may not in fact be suitable for community supervision sentences. Yet, until they commit another violent sentence, their status as a dangerous offender cannot be reviewed by a court. I should mention, and it should be obvious, until they commit another violent offence, then it is too late for the community, for innocent victims and for families.
Given the concerns expressed since former Bill C-27 was tabled, the government has been examining the scope of this problem and developing potential solutions. It is clear that a large proportion of the individuals who meet the dangerous offender criteria, but have been given a less severe sentence, have demonstrated that they simply refuse to cooperate. The majority eventually breach one or more of the conditions of their long term supervision order. This is a clear indicator that the original sentence was based on a flawed presumption that the offender was manageable. As such, there is a real need to revisit the original sentence in order to stop the reoffending right then and there before another tragedy occurs.
The tackling violent crime act addresses this problem and includes new provisions that were not included in the former bill.
First, the tackling violent crime act makes it clear that from now on if offenders meet the dangerous offender criteria, they will always be designated as a dangerous offender first, and that designation is for life. The court must then determine the appropriate sentence, either an indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence, with or without the long term offender supervision order. Critical to this scheme is that from now on the court must impose an indeterminate sentence unless it is satisfied that the offenders can be managed under a less severe sentence.
Second, in cases where dangerous offenders are able to satisfy the court that they can be managed under the lesser sentence and are subsequently charged and convicted with a breach of a long term supervision order, they can be brought back to the court for a new sentencing hearing. At the new hearing, dangerous offenders will have to satisfy the court once again that they can still be managed under the lesser sentence. If not, the indeterminate sentence must be imposed.
The government believes that the impact of these new reforms will be significant. Because of the clarification to the sentencing provisions, fewer offenders will escape the dangerous offender designation. In addition, for the few offenders who are declared to be dangerous offenders, but given a long term offender sentence, they will know that if they do not abide by the term of their supervision orders once released, they will be returned to court for a new sentencing hearing and an indeterminate sentence will be the likely outcome.
It will not take a second sexual assault or a second violent offence to bring the offender back for a new dangerous offender sentence. This new provision would be available, for example, even if the violation were simply that the offender failed to return to his residence before curfew or consumed alcohol or drugs in violation of a long term offender supervision order.
Our government remains committed to ensuring that all Canadians live in safe and secure communities. The tackling violent crime act will protect Canadians. It is fulfilling our commitments to Canadians. The government is committed to taking action, acting on behalf of the safety of all Canadians. I urge all members to support the tackling violent crime act.
Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 23rd, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your team a good session, and to welcome the new pages as they start their new jobs.
No one will be surprised if I speak specifically about justice. Overall, the Bloc Québécois was disappointed in the throne speech. Our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, clearly indicated our conditions and expectations.
We also spoke about the Kyoto protocol. We clearly wanted the government to confirm that it would follow through with the commitment we made when Kyoto was signed: to bring greenhouse gases down to their 1990 levels and then reduce them further still. We do not have a green government—this we know. This government is very irresponsible when it comes to the environment, and the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has had many opportunities to speak about this.
We would also have liked the government to agree with the views of many important representatives of civil society and our fellow citizens, that Canada's mission in Afghanistan must end in 2009. Since the beginning of the mission we have been critical of the fact that there has not been a satisfactory balance of development assistance, international cooperation and military objectives.
Obviously we hope that attention will be focused on the entire question of forestry and the manufacturing sector. We know what hard times those sectors have experienced. Certainly we hope that supply management will also be discussed, for it is an extremely important issue in rural communities. And we hope that the government will eliminate the spending power in relation to matters under provincial jurisdiction. There have been calls for this for 50 years, and the Bloc Québécois is certainly not going to be satisfied with the government’s dishonest subterfuge.
With that introduction, we must now talk about the justice system. First, what an exercise in cosmetics this is, what an exercise in stage management! Watching the press conference given by the Minister of Justice, his colleague the Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, we had the impression that we were attending a play by Molière, starring Tartuffe. We were given to think that since the Conservatives took power in 2006 the House of Commons has been the victim of obstruction when it comes to the justice system. We were also given to think that the government has been prevented from having its justice initiative passed.
And yet when we look a little closer, we see that since January 2006 the Conservative government has tabled 12 bills relating to the justice system. As we speak, six of those bills have received royal assent and have thus become law. Of those six bills that have become law, three were passed using what is called the fast-track procedure, with the unanimous consent of all leaders in the House of Commons.
So out of 12 bills, six have become law, and three of those were passed with the consent of all parties using the fast-track procedure; four reached the Senate, at first, second and third reading, while both in the House and in committee there were only two bills remaining. It has to be said that in parliamentary history there have been more vigorous examples of obstruction. When six bills receive royal assent, four are being considered in the Senate and only two are left, you cannot, in all honesty, appear at a press conference and say that you have been unable to get your bills passed.
For the benefit of our constituents, I will mention the bills that were passed.
First, there was Bill C-9, on conditional sentences. It is true that we did propose some amendments. It is our job to do that. We are a responsible opposition. What is the role of the opposition? It is to ensure that bill are improved and made as perfect as possible. We would be completely irresponsible if we did not do our work. As far as the bill on conditional sentences is concerned, the government ultimately wanted to do away with that option for judges and we highlighted that.
Bill C-17, which dealt with judges’ salaries, was also passed, followed by Bill C-18, a rather technical bill on DNA data banks. Moreover, in tribute to our unfortunately deceased colleague, Bill C-19, which creates a new offence under the Criminal Code with regard to street racing, was passed unanimously.
Two other bills were passed within 48 hours, which is an indication of the cooperation among opposition parties. One of those two was introduced by the Bloc Québécois, because of incidents of piracy, the unauthorized use of camcorders to record movies in theatres, particularly in Montreal. The other bill dealt with the signing by Canada of an international convention to fight organized crime.
Four other bills were being dealt with in the Senate, or I should say, “the other place.” There was, first, Bill C-10, concerning minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.
Next, there was Bill C-22, which dealt with the age of protection under the Criminal Code. Some of my colleagues followed that subject with a great deal of interest. The Bloc Québécois had asked for a five-year proximity clause. The Bill was before the Senate. In spite of some questions, our position was relatively favourable. The bill had been amended in committee.
Then there was Bill C-23, somewhat technical, on the language of juries and the accused.
I do not want to forget to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am sharing the time allotted to me with the likeable and charming member for Sherbrooke.
Finally, Bill C-35 on reversing the onus of proof was also passed. Some television journalists described this bill as reversing the onus of proof for parole. However, the bill was not about parole but about pre-trial bail hearings.
There were two bills remaining about which we had and still have questions and amendments to propose.
The first deals with drug-impaired driving. We are in favour of the new provision in the bill requiring individuals to take sobriety tests. Peace officers and police could stop people who are driving erratically under the influence of drugs. We were in favour of certain provisions to require people to submit to sobriety tests.
We amended the bill however because, as unlikely as it might seem, it would have been irresponsible to pass this Conservative bill without any amendments. Imagine someone driving along in his car together with a friend. They drive down the road—let us say the Trans-Canada highway, for example, to please some of my colleagues here—and it turns out that the friend, who is driving, has marijuana in his pockets or his luggage. If we had passed this bill, the car owner would have been held liable. That did not seem responsible to us or legally sound.
There was also another bill about which we had a lot of questions. Unfortunately though, I have only a minute left and so I am going to proceed to my conclusion and allow the hon. member for Sherbrooke to take over.
We are going to take our work in committee very seriously. We will not allow ourselves to be dictated to by the government which, in a fit of authoritarianism, might demand that the opposition propose no amendments to Bill C-2.
We will amend Bill C-2 if we think that is the direction in which the testimony we hear is taking us. As always, I can assure the House that the Bloc Québécois will act in a serious, responsible, reasoned way. We would also like to remind the House of the justice proposals we made last June.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 18th, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in this debate today in the reply to the Speech from the Throne.
I want to address what was mentioned previously by one of the members opposite. The member wondered why our government has introduced 13 bills related to justice since we came to office. Perhaps it would be because for 13 years the Liberals neglected our justice system. For 13 years Canadians had to put up with a revolving door justice system, a soft on crime justice system and a system that put the victim somewhere at the very bottom on the list of priorities.
There remains a lot of work to be done.
The member mentioned some of the bills. Bill C-10 would have brought in mandatory minimum penalties for serious gun crimes and was stalled in committee for 252 days. Bill C-35 was stalled in committee for 64 days and 211 days between the House and the Senate. That would have provided a reverse onus on people who commit gun crimes. Bill C-27 dealt with the worst of the worst: dangerous offenders. It was 105 days in committee and 246 days in the House. Bill C-22 was to protect the young from adult sexual predators. It was 365 days in the House and the Senate.
Those members wonder why we have to work so hard. They wonder why we have to do so much.
Because they left us so much work to be done.
The government's first Speech from the Throne set clear goals and we stayed on course to achieve them. The results are evident in the improved quality of life Canadians share and the higher confidence they have in government leadership.
The new Speech from the Throne, as we heard this week, offers Canadians the same clarity and framework to build on our achievements made to date. As the Speech from the Throne notes, the government is committed to continuing to build a better Canada. We are going to do this by strengthening Canada's sovereignty and place in the world, building a stronger federation, providing effective economic leadership, continuing to tackle crime, and improving our environment.
I am pleased to stand to speak in support of our government's unwavering commitment to a balanced justice agenda, to a law-abiding society, to tackling crime, and to building safer communities, streets and neighbourhoods. I might add that in the last election this is what our constituents from coast to coast elected us to do. It is exactly what they asked us to do.
As all of us in the House know, or should know, Canadians value a law-abiding society and safe communities. The rule of law and Canada's strong justice system are defining characteristics of what it is to be Canadian.
Canadians express strong support for the law. In fact, the vast majority of Canadians responding to a set of questions on the world values survey, repeated several times between 1990 and 2006, consistently expressed a strong willingness to abide by the law. Compared to citizens in most other countries in the world, Canadians have one of the highest levels of support for law-abiding behaviour.
We know where Canadians' values lie and we share those values. As parliamentarians, we must reflect these values in all that we do.
Canadians' perceptions of crime reflect their community experience and are supported by long term and local crime statistics and news. I am sure that every member in the House, from no matter which party, could bring forward stories from his or her own riding about how Canadians have been victimized or how someone has been a repeat offender but is allowed back into the community to re-victimize innocent Canadians. Every one of us gets those phone calls and emails. Every one of us can somehow relate to that experience.
Community leaders, victims' groups and law enforcement know their particular challenges and for once they have a government that is listening to them. Every province, territory and major city has street corners and neighbourhoods where people do not want to go any more, and if ordinary Canadians do not want to live there, then neither will they shop there or play there. Businesses will leave and schools will deteriorate.
There are too many of those street corners in Canada now. It is not consistent with Canadians' expectations and hopes for their communities. And they deserve better. All Canadians should be able to walk our streets and travel to and from our homes, schools and workplaces in safety.
This is why we are standing up to protect our communities and to work with Canadians to ensure a safer and more secure Canada.
Let me give the House an example of the kind of tragedy people are reading and talking about in my part of the world. The Nunn commission arose out of a tragedy in Nova Scotia. A 16 year old boy went from no prior record to a nine month crime spree involving 38 separate charges and 11 court appearances and ended when, two days after his release, high on drugs, he killed an innocent mother of three by speeding through a residential intersection.
Commissioner Nunn, who headed the inquiry into this tragedy, stated:
We should be able to halt the spiral [into crime], through prevention, through quick action, through creative thinking, through collaboration, through clear strategies, and through programs that address clearly identified needs.
I agree with Commissioner Nunn. We should be able to do better and to stop such behaviour before it gets out of control. Canadians expect and deserve no less.
These are the kinds of real life tragedies that our communities want us to address. They are the tragedies that I know my constituents expect us to address. They are the tragedies that motivate many of us on this side of the House to do something to protect innocent Canadians.
I know that Canadians across the country and in every community have similar stories of kids who are in serious trouble and causing serious harm, stories of binge drinking, using illicit drugs, committing auto theft, property crime and other crimes, all of which are elements of this tragedy I just mentioned.
Canadians are particularly concerned about crimes victimizing the most vulnerable community members, such as seniors and children. Families worry about how to keep their children and grandchildren from becoming victims of youth crime. They also worry about their young family members being drawn into the wrong crowd and beginning a life of crime.
In the face of such tragedies, Canadians look to us for a way forward, for a way out of despair for their youth and worry about the safety of their streets. They look to us for solutions. They look to us to restore their confidence in the justice system. That is what members on this side of the House intend to do. We intend to restore their confidence in the justice system.
I want to mention a few statistics.
We know that Canadians are not always confident that the criminal justice system is doing enough to protect them. That is a major theme. We have heard about this time and time again. They know that violent crime is too common. They dread hearing statistics like those released this week by Statistics Canada.
These are just a few statistics, but they tell us that four out of 10 victims of violent crime sustain injuries and that almost half of violent crimes occurred at private residences. By the way, private residences, and I am sure all members would agree, are where we should feel most safe. These are our homes. Half of violent crimes occurred at home.
The statistics also tell us that firearms were involved in 30% of homicides, 31% of attempted murders and 13% of robberies. We are all deeply saddened to hear that one out of every sixth victim of violent crime was a youth aged 12 to 17 years old. What is worse is that children under 12 years of age accounted for 23% of victims of sexual assaults and 5% of victims of violent crimes.
Of course we know that most crime is never reported. Statistics Canada's victimization survey found that only about 34% of criminal incidents committed in 2004 came to the attention of police. When we think about it, that is really an alarming statistic. For all the crime that is reported there is that much more out there that goes unreported.
There is a reason why. I hear this in my own riding and I am sure many of my colleagues do as well. Victims do not report crime because they think it will not make a difference, because our system will not treat it seriously. It is going to take a lot of work to change that impression, but we are a government that is set on changing it.
Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians, or one in four persons, reported being victimized in 2004. When I speak with my constituents and people across this country about crime, they often tell me that the justice system does more for offenders than for victims. Our government is listening to victims, increasing their voice in the justice system and helping them play a more active role. Addressing the needs of victims of crime in Canada is a shared responsibility between federal and provincial and territorial governments. It is an issue that we are already addressing in collaboration with these partners.
New programs and services are being implemented in the Department of Justice. The victim fund is being enhanced to provide more resources to provinces and territories to deliver services where they are needed.
We have appointed for the first time ever a Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Mr. Steve Sullivan, who is a well known advocate for victims. The ombudsman will ensure that the federal government lives up to its commitments and obligations to victims of crime. I think I hear the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe applauding the appointment of Mr. Sullivan. I thank him for that. Victims expect and deserve no less.
As mentioned, we remain committed to the goal of ensuring that all Canadians live in a safe and secure community. That is why we are introducing Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
The measures in this legislation represent a clear and sustained commitment on the part of our government to deal with the crimes that weigh heavily on the minds of Canadians as they go about their daily lives. Through this bill we will address the crime of the sexual exploitation of youth by adult predators. We also are tackling the crime that takes the highest toll in death and injury: impaired driving.
We know that Canadians want us to protect them from these crimes. We know also that to do so we need the support of all hon. members as well as Canadians and our partners in the provinces and territories, in law enforcement and in community groups.
I want to speak briefly about each component. Alcohol and drug impaired driving have devastating effects on victims, families and communities. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries each year, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage. With this legislation, impaired drivers will face tough punishment whatever intoxicant they choose. Police and prosecutors will have more tools to use to stop them.
Statistics Canada reports that there were an alarming 75,000 impaired driving incidents in 2006 and approximately 1,200 caused bodily harm or death. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, alcohol and/or drugs lead to more fatalities and injuries than any other single crime. The total financial and social costs are immeasurable and these impacts are felt in all of our communities. Research by Ontario's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health shows that Ontario drunk driver fatalities decreased when the driving licences of impaired drivers were suspended for 90 days.
So there are good approaches that the police and courts can use once there is a conviction for impaired driving. Part of our job as custodians of the Criminal Code is to help them get those convictions. Then more impaired drivers can be kept off our roads and streets.
One reason that impaired driving remains common is that drug impairment is now a frequent factor. Until now, police have not had the same tools available to them to stop those who drive while impaired from drugs as they did to address alcohol impaired driving. With this bill, now they will.
If passed, this legislation will strengthen the abilities of our police and prosecutors to investigate, prosecute and penalize those who endanger the safety of their fellow Canadians through alcohol or drug impaired driving.
The bill will also ensure that the punishment fits the crime and the damage it causes. Chronic offenders, or what are called hard core offenders, will be targeted with appropriate measures. These chronic offenders are disproportionately a cause of death and injury on our roads. All of these provisions will help police, crown prosecutors and the courts deal with these offenders.
Impaired driving is hurting so many families and communities that there are calls on Parliament to take action. For example, earlier this month MADD urged that these reforms be passed as soon as possible. We are certainly listening.
I know that many members here recognize the pressing need to ensure the safety of our communities by providing our police the tools necessary to address drug impaired driving. It is time they had those tools in their hands and it is time for us to act.
On the issue of the age of protection, this is something that is very timely and is in the news all the time. It strikes at the core of our society's values in protecting the most vulnerable, in protecting the young. For the same reason, parents, teachers, police and communities share this government's commitment to protecting young people from sexual predation. One of the most disturbing thoughts for any parent is the thought of a sexual predator preying on their child.
I should mention that members from this side of the House have been advocating for this for years and we welcome having a government that takes the protection of children seriously enough to take this step.
The tackling violent crime act reintroduces our proposals to raise the age at which young people can consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators. In short, it will take away the ability of adult sexual predators to rely on claims that their young victims consented.
The Speech from the Throne provides Canadians with a clear and achievable blueprint for criminal law and policy reforms. It will provide Canadians with safer streets and healthier communities, communities and cities where people want to live and raise their families. Community by community we will build a better Canada.
I addressed some of the bills. There is a question as to why we have introduced this bill in a comprehensive format. We did it because there is a lot of work to be done and many of the measures that were introduced in the last Parliament that are substantively contained in this bill were delayed. They were delayed by the opposition. They were delayed in the House. They were delayed in committee.
In the day and age we live in members should know that many households in Canada have the Internet. Anyone can log on to the House of Commons website and read Hansard, as we all do. Any Canadian can read from the House of Commons committee transcripts. Canadians can judge for themselves whether there was a delay.
I sat in the justice committee while those bills were being debated. I listened to the victims of crime who came forward and begged us, as they have over the years. There are many colleagues on this side of the House who have been here a lot longer than I have been here.
In the past, the member from Calgary introduced legislation to raise the age of consent. At the time, the Liberal government did not want anything to do with it. The Liberals would not take action. Now they claim that we should not be proceeding in this format. We are going to proceed because Canadians have demanded that we act to protect children, that we get serious with repeat violent offenders, that we get serious with individuals who use firearms in the commission of a crime, and that we get serious regarding drug impaired driving, a scourge on our streets.
We are taking those concerns seriously. That is why we have brought Bill C-2 forward. I look forward to support from members on all sides of the House as we move forward to make our Canadian streets, communities and homes safer for all Canadians.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 18th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting. The NDP supported Bill C-10, an act to establish escalator clauses for minimum mandatory penalties. The NDP supported it and agreed with escalator clauses. That is in the omnibus bill. The NDP supported Bill C-22, an act to increase the age of protection. That is in the omnibus bill. The NDP supported Bill C-32, the impaired driving act. That is in the omnibus bill. The NDP supported Bill C-35, which is in the omnibus bill--
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 18th, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
Monte Solberg Minister of Human Resources and Social Development
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and engage in the debate on the Speech from the Throne.
Today I rise wearing a number of hats. I am here today as the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada. I am here as a member of Parliament for Medicine Hat. Also, when we talk about issues of crime and law and order, I think it is appropriate to mention that I am here as a husband and a father, because this is an issue that I think we all feel very acutely and personally.
It is a pleasure, though, to talk today about what was in the Speech from the Throne, first of all wearing my hat as the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. Yesterday and in the Speech from the Throne read by the Governor General on Tuesday, the Prime Minister talked about the need for the country to finally and forever get serious about the issue of tackling crime and making our communities safer. I would argue that in order to do this an “all of government” approach is required.
I think the Prime Minister has signalled his intention to do exactly that. It was not very long ago in Winnipeg that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health talked about a national anti-drug strategy designed to steer young people away from drugs but also to ensure that those people who are addicted get the help they need.
I feel that in my portfolio we do a number of things, and I am proud of this, that are designed especially to help young people so that they do not get drawn into a life of crime, which is an easy temptation in neighbourhoods that have broken down and where families are not stable. To that end, we provide a lot of programming aimed at helping youth and in fact targeting youth who in many cases are most likely to get drawn into that kind of situation. We do that through the youth employment strategy.
We have also launched a number of new and very important initiatives. I want to touch on them briefly. We have done things like announcing in the budget new labour market agreements which allow us to work with the provinces so that we reach out to all those individuals who are not eligible for employment insurance, such as people who have been on social assistance, and people who, for whatever reason, have not been able to get into the workforce and need a helping hand from the government. This is a very significant initiative of $3 billion over the next six years. We believe this is an important way to reach out to people who left school early, for instance, and who have struggled to find work, and to give them the helping hand they need to get employment and avoid that life.
We have also announced an apprenticeship incentive grant, which we think will help 100,000 people a year get into the trades. We have doubled the size of the aboriginal skills employment program, which benefits aboriginals around the country, but certainly in the north. I point out that unfortunately we have very high levels of crime on reserve in many parts of the country and certainly north of 60. We have very high levels of violent crime, levels at nine times the national average, for instance, in places like Nunavut.
We believe these initiatives are extraordinarily important in terms of preventing crime and reaching out to people who are vulnerable and ultimately giving them some hope. As the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, I note that these are some of the new initiatives we have undertaken.
I want to highlight one other initiative that I think is important. I see a member of the opposition across the way with whom I discussed this the other day. This initiative is the homelessness partnering strategy, which is an initiative that we put in place a number of months ago. It is designed to work at a community level, whereby we have communities leading the charge in identifying how we can best help people who find themselves homeless, knowing that the best way to start to give them the help they need is to put a roof over their heads first and, even before that, to prevent homelessness.
We think this can best be done at the community level. This new initiative brings together the federal, provincial and municipal governments and certainly the not for profit organizations that on the ground are the real experts. I am proud of that initiative. I am looking forward to working with local groups to achieve some of the ends I have just discussed.
If I may, I will now change hats and, as a member of Parliament from the riding of Medicine Hat, talk about an issue that is vitally important to Canadians. I come from a rural riding not unlike those of many members in the House. It is a riding chiefly peopled by a lot of middle class Canadians who enjoy relative prosperity, but of course there is a range of incomes in the riding. Nevertheless, despite the fact that these people seem to have a pretty good situation in general, when I tour the riding and go to town hall meetings, as I did this fall, many people raise the issue of crime. They are deeply concerned about crime.
I always argue that I do not think there is a people in the world fairer than Canadians; they are fair to a fault. They believe in fairness. By extension, I believe they also feel very strongly that there must be justice in the country. I think very often they believe that we do not have a very just justice system in Canada today. I want to talk about that for a moment.
As I mentioned, I think we live in a pretty good part of the world, but when one talks to people, whether they are young people who very often themselves are the victims of youth crime, or older people who very often are afraid of the chaos they sometimes find on the streets of their communities in the form of property crime or very aggressive panhandling, or people who are worried about the rapid rise in drug use and ultimately the crime that springs from that, they are concerned.
When people see stories like the one we saw recently regarding a young constable murdered in Hay River, or when they see some of the terrible gun violence on the streets of Toronto at Jane and Finch, they are extraordinarily concerned. They wonder why we do not do more to provide police officers and crown prosecutors with the tools they need in order to bring this problem under control.
I would be extraordinarily remiss if I did not point out that as an opposition member of Parliament I certainly spoke on these issues a number of times over the years, but there are others in this place who have done far more than I to draw attention to this. I think about a couple of members of Parliament on our side who have announced that they will soon be leaving this place. They have announced their retirements. I think of my friend from Calgary Northeast, who chairs the justice committee, and my friend, the member of Parliament for Wild Rose. They both have spoken eloquently in this place for years about the need to provide precisely those tools to crown prosecutors, the RCMP and local police forces so they can do their jobs.
Our government has made this a priority since the time we came to power. We have brought forward a number of measures to attempt to address some of the issues raised by my constituents. In fact we have introduced in this place something like 13 different pieces of legislation dealing with the issues of criminal justice. The sad fact, though, is that unfortunately at almost every turn these initiatives have been thwarted by the opposition.
I have to say that I am simply required by honesty to point out that it is not the people one might suspect who are thwarting a lot these initiatives. Sometimes we have run into problems with the Bloc and the NDP in trying to get these things through, but I can say that overwhelmingly it is the Liberals who are standing in the way of delivering measures that will make Canadians safer. Unfortunately, they do this in one of the most sneaky and underhanded ways possible.
On the one hand, they stand up in this place and talk about the need to address these problems. Then, when the cameras are off, they go into committee, gut individual pieces of legislation and try to send them, hollow, back to this place. If these pieces of legislation do pass, they go to the Senate where the Liberals sit on them to the point where of course ultimately those bills do not go forward.
As a result, we are in a new Parliament. Now we are asking for the authority of this place to go ahead and pursue some of this legislation aggressively so we can do exactly what we told Canadians we would do, which is to bring in legislation and provide tools to the police and crown prosecutors so we can make our streets safe again.
There is not a member of Parliament in this place who is not touched by this every day. I get very frustrated in regard to this issue, because I do not think there is any more important role we have than that of ensuring the protection of the citizens of our country.
The throne speech speaks about this country's commitment to peace, order and good government. I can tell the House that I am never more proud as a member of Parliament than when we do something to protect the most vulnerable in this country. That is exactly what we will be doing if we start to address some of the issues laid out in the Speech from the Throne.
I could best do that by talking a little about some of the pieces of legislation we brought forward in the past that were stymied by the opposition, in particular by the Liberals, and then talk about the need to bring them forward again in a new bill, in the tackling violent crime initiative the Prime Minister spoke of yesterday.
One of the most important pieces of legislation we offered in the last Parliament was Bill C-10. Bill C-10 would provide a mandatory minimum sentence, a mandatory minimum penalty, for firearms offences. In other words, that means there would be a minimum amount of time that someone would have to serve if found guilty of committing a crime with a firearm. It would mean that judges would no longer have the latitude of allowing someone to walk away without serving any time at all. I think that is common sense to the great majority of Canadians.
Sadly, that was never observed in many, many cases. The result is that people ultimately completely lose confidence in the justice system in this country. They start to throw up their hands and say, “What is the point?” After a while, people even quit reporting crimes.
Our Bill C-10 was designed to address some of those concerns. That bill was stalled in committee for 252 days. The bill died after a total of 414 calendar days before Parliament. In other words, we brought that bill forward, the public was with us, and the opposition spoke in favour of these types of initiatives during the election campaign, but when the rubber met the road, when members of the opposition had a chance to do something to protect Canadians, they stood in front of us and blocked our way.
They should be ashamed of that, because there is not a member across the way who does not have people coming into his or her office every week and complaining about the crime they read about, hear about or experience. They want something done, but it never happens because members of the opposition stand in the way. They stood in the way of it when they were in government for 13 years. Now it is time to start to deal with it.
Another bill we brought forward was the reverse onus on bail for firearms offences, Bill C-35. It was stalled in committee for 64 days. The bill died after a total of 211 days before Parliament.
What does this mean? What does the bill do? The bill ensures that persons accused of a gun crime have to show why they should not be kept in jail while awaiting trial. That would apply to people who are accused of using a firearm to commit certain offences, including attempted murder or discharging a firearm with a criminal intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and extortion.
When those people are accused of those crimes, we are simply asking that they demonstrate why they should be allowed bail. The onus would be reversed. If we think about what is at stake, I do not think that is too much to ask. What is at stake is the safety of ordinary men, women and children in this country who want nothing more than to go about their lives and pursue whatever it is that pleases them.
However, again we were stymied in our attempt to bring forward this common sense legislation that was supported by the Premier of Ontario and the mayor of Toronto, jurisdictions where all too often they see the results of laws that do not adequately address the problems of crime.
Another bill that we are anxious to bring forward is Bill C-27, which deals with the issue of dangerous offenders. This bill was stalled in committee for 105 days and it died after a total of 248 days before Parliament. The bill would create a presumption of dangerousness, so that when an individual has been convicted three or more times of violent sexual crimes, it would be up to that person to prove that he should not be regarded as a dangerous offender.
I honestly do not understand why the opposition would stand in the way of what is, in my mind, very common sense legislation. If we are committed to the ideal of peace, order and good government, we must back it up with legislation and resources. I would argue that the opposition has failed us on that count, irrespective of what it says during election campaigns when it is very popular to appear to be law and order parties.
Another bill that we brought forward dealt with the age of consent, the age of protection, which was tabled in Parliament on June 22, 2006. It was endorsed by the Kids' Internet Safety Alliance and the Canadian Crime Victim Foundation. It was stalled in committee for 175 days and died after a total of 365 days before Parliament. It sought to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16, which to me is such an obvious way to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, children, but again the opposition finds all kinds of odd and strange justifications for not pursuing this.
Where is the conviction that we have an obligation as legislators to protect vulnerable people in this society? This was, I would argue, a common sense initiative that again was thwarted by the opposition.
Finally, I want to talk about Bill C-32, drug impaired driving. It was introduced into the House on November 21, 2006 and referred to the justice committee in February 2007. Despite being endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Bill C-32 died after 149 days in committee and the bill died after a total of 213 days before Parliament. The bill would have given the police the tools they need to better detect and investigate drug and alcohol impaired driving and penalties for impaired driving would have been increased. Persons suspected of being impaired by a drug would be required to submit to a roadside sobriety test and, if they failed, to provide a blood or urine sample to confirm whether they had consumed a drug.
I again would remind members how often we read in the newspapers, see on TV and have people come into our offices to talk about the terrible effects of the scourge of drug and alcohol impaired driving. However, when the opposition had an opportunity to help us deal with this and make Canadians safer, it failed us at every turn.
Today I am very proud to speak in favour of the initiatives outlined in the Speech from the Throne and to speak in favour of the justice minister, the public safety minister and the Prime Minister for their unwavering stance in favour of giving police and crown prosecutors more tools. I really do believe it is our duty and our obligation as legislators to ensure we do everything in our power to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.
June 19th, 2007 / 7:45 p.m.
Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time tonight with the member for Northumberland—Quinte West.
It is an opportunity for me to discuss Bill C-21. This legislation addresses firearms control, an area of great concern to all Canadians. Everyone who watches the news knows how prevalent gun violence has become in some communities and this is extremely troubling.
Gang members carrying illegal handguns and brazenly settling scores in public areas have brought fear to cities across the country. In some neighbourhoods, people witness gun violence regularly but are intimidated into silence by criminals. This kind of criminal activity must be stopped. Canada has always had the reputation of being a peaceful country. We must do something now to help ensure this remains the case, and that means cracking down on violent crime.
The government made a commitment to protect Canadians and that is what we intend to do. Bill C-21 is part of the government's larger plan to strengthen the safety and security of Canadians. The government has taken steps over the last year to keep Canadians safe and to do so in a way that simplifies compliance for law-abiding citizens.
The first responsibility of any government should always be to protect its citizens from harm but governments should also be careful to do this in a way that law-abiding citizens can comply with easily. This government is working diligently to ensure that this balance is respected.
We have introduced Bill C-21 to reinstate a balance between protecting Canadians and easing requirements for responsible firearms owners. I would like to highlight some of the public safety measures our government has taken in the past year. The government has an overall plan for safer communities and Bill C-21 fits within our vision of a safe and prosperous Canada.
First, the government felt that policing and law enforcement needed to be bolstered in Canada. In budget 2006, we invested a significant amount of money to give the RCMP additional resources to focus on law enforcement priorities. These included the expansion of the RCMP's National Training Academy, known as Depot; increasing the DNA samples on file to include a greater range of offenders; support for a special contingent of first nations RCMP; and an additional 1,000 RCMP resources to focus on drugs, corruption and border security.
Now in Budget 2007, we have continued this support for our national police services to protect children from sexual exploitation and trafficking and supporting the Canadian Police Research Centre's work in science and technology in policing and public safety.
Furthermore, we are taking action to crack down on white collar crime by appointing a senior expert adviser to the RCMP to help develop and guide the implementation of a plan to improve the effectiveness of the integrated market enforcement teams. We are also investing $80 million over two years to make the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's operations more effective.
On another front, the government took steps to strengthen our borders in a way that keeps legitimate goods and people moving across the border and threats out of our country. We put in place a plan to start arming border guards. Through our plan, approximately 4,800 officers will be trained and armed. This includes 400 officers who will be hired so that no officer will be required to work alone. Some of these officers will be deployed as early as this summer and we expect that by March 2008, between 200 and 250 armed officers will be working at the border.
There is another issue that affects our communities directly and that is youth crime. Many communities in Canada have youth crime problems. It can sometimes mean vandalism, drug abuse or even gang involvement.
Our work is based on the principle that the surest way to reduce crime is to focus on the factors that put individuals at risk, factors like family violence, school problems and drug abuse. We aim to reduce crime by tackling crime before it happens. That is why my hon. colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, announced in January $16.1 million in funding for youth at risk. These projects are funded through the National Crime Prevention Centre and they help youth make good choices and stay or get back on the right track.
Firearms control should focus on criminals, not on law-abiding and responsible firearms owners.
I hope that the hon. members of this House can now better understand the broader public safety context within which our gun control measures operate. Gun control is but one of many ways we are working to protect Canadians.
The object of today's debate, Bill C-21, deals with an aspect of the firearms control program that has been at the centre of discussion ever since the introduction of the Firearms Act in 1995: the registration of non-restricted firearms. These are ordinary rifles and shotguns most often used for hunting.
Why do we wish to abolish the requirement to register these firearms? The answer is twofold. The first reason is that we are not convinced that the registration of non-restricted firearms prevents gun crime. The second reason comes back to what I said earlier. Governments have a responsibility to direct limited to resources where they will have the most effect. With respect to gun control, we believe this means investing in measures that focus on criminals rather than on law-abiding citizens.
The most recent example of this was the successful raid carried out in Toronto last week that resulted in over 60 arrests and the seizure of 30 illegal guns, dealing a significant blow to a notorious street gang that terrorized the neighbourhood. Protecting the most vulnerable is where our limited resources should be directed to, not inundating law-abiding citizens with cumbersome rules and regulations.
Therefore, the government has decided to remove the registration requirement for legitimate and responsible non-restricted firearms owners and focus on gun crime.
Indeed, to achieve this very goal, my colleague, the hon. Minister of Justice, tabled a bill on May 4, 2006 to strengthen the mandatory minimum sentences for violent gun crimes. The government has introduced a number of legislative initiatives that target gun crimes and we encourage opposition MPs to support these initiatives.
Bill C-10 passed third reading in the House on May 29 and is awaiting second reading in the other place. Bill C-10 proposes escalating minimum penalties for specific offences involving the actual use of firearms. These offences include attempted murder, sexual assault and kidnapping, among others. Minimum penalties are also proposed for certain serious non-offence uses, such as firearm trafficking and smuggling. The higher minimum penalties rest on specific aggravating factors such as repeat firearms offences, use of restricted or prohibited firearms or the commission of firearm offences in connection with a criminal organization which includes a gang.
Bill C-35 is another important piece of legislation on our agenda to tackle gun crimes. It deals with the burden of proof during bail hearings for firearm related offences.
These reforms will lower the risk that people charged with serious offences may reoffend while out on bail. It will also reduce the risk that they may take flight to avoid facing trial for the charges. This bill was also recently passed by the House of Commons and is awaiting second reading in the Senate.
These new measures send a clear message that the Government of Canada will not tolerate gun crime on our streets and in our communities. However, as the members of the House no doubt know, firearms control includes much more than handing tough sentences to those who commit crime. Firearms control includes measures that aim to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of ineligible individuals.
The registration of non-restricted firearms has not proven itself to be effective in accomplishing this goal. In fact, in our view the most effective system currently in place that accomplishing that goal is licensing. We have the support of many groups that agree that licensing is the critical information necessary.
As deputy commissioner of the RCMP, Peter Martin, stated to the public safety committee:
If we go to a residence on a call, we're not interested in articles in the house as much as the person in the house and what they have available to them.
The critical piece of information right now is who is licensed and who has the potential to have in his or her possession a firearm, regardless of whether it's a long gun or a restricted or prohibited weapon.
Through the steps that an individual must take to obtain a licence, authorities can determine if the individual in question poses a security risk. The steps include passing the exams for the Canadian firearm safety course, passing the background checks that are performed using police files and answering personal history questions to identify the possible safety concerns such as serious problems with substance abuse. The answers to these questions must be corroborated by two references who have personally known the individual for at least three years.
Screening individuals before they are issued a licence is paramount to an effective firearms control system. Even once a licence is issued to an individual, a continuous check is performed through an automated link between the Canadian firearms information system and the Canadian police information system or CPIC. If any new information is entered on the CPIC system by police, such as a report on threats made to another person, the firearms information system automatically checks to see if the person in question is a firearms licence holder. If so, steps can be taken to suspend or revoke the licence and law enforcement authorities are notified so they can take appropriate action to remove the firearms.
Bill C-21, is an important piece of legislation that would re-establish the proper balance in the area of firearms control. It would ease the requirements for firearm owners while ensuring that records of firearm purchases continue to be kept. Our government believes that resources should be invested to keep Canadians safe. However, we believe in investing those resources in effective initiatives and programs. That is why we have focused on areas such as law enforcement, border security, youth crime and, of course, gun control. In all cases we are taking a results based approach.
I therefore encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-21.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the government, in proposing this motion today, has chosen once again to maintain its habitual lack of consultation and reluctance to attempt a collaborative approach to organizing the business of the House.
On more than one occasion, as I think the Chair will remember, I asked directly whether the government intended to make use of Standing Order 27. As other House leaders can confirm, the reply was, “probably not”. I do not think we would be off base in the opposition in expecting that if that were no longer the case, if the government had in fact changed its mind, that it would have decently given us a heads-up that it was going to propose this motion today, at least given us that notice some time earlier than around one o'clock this afternoon.
Frankly, as we saw the government House leader making his travels across the floor of the House, I will not say where he went, the heckling and yelling as he departed the chamber obviously indicates the kind of demeanour of which we have to deal.
I do not see what there is on the order paper at present that this motion will get through the House any more quickly than would have otherwise been the case. I presume, judging by the government House leader's remarks, that the government is principally concerned with Bill C-52, the budget bill.
It has represented to the House and to the public that the government is now extremely concerned the bill will not receive royal assent in time for certain expenditures to be booked in the appropriate fiscal year. Let us be clear. The fiscal year the Conservatives are talking about is 2006-07, and that is the point.
The issue is retroactive fiscal bookings for the last fiscal year, not the future fiscal year, as members would have gathered from the remarks of the government House leader. If there is concern about the lateness of the date, the government really has only itself to blame.
Usually federal budgets are delivered in or about the third week of February, which then permits the introduction of a budget implementation bill by the end of that month. If things are properly managed, this would permit the bill to be in committee before the end of March and to be passed at all stages by the end of May or, at the very latest, the beginning of June.
This year the government chose, for its own partisan reasons, to delay the budget until the third week of March. We did not even see it until then. Then it unilaterally interrupted the budget debate. Then having finished that, belatedly, it interrupted, again, the second reading debate on the budget implementation Bill C-52. That interruption lasted for three full weeks, getting the bill to committee only in the middle of May.
As a consequence, the government then bulldozed the bill through the committee, breaking procedural agreements, denying many interested and informed citizens and groups the right to testify on the bill. Let it be clearly understood that any procedural issue on Bill C-52 is a direct result of government breaking the agreement on the process, which had been fully settled by members of the committee.
Nevertheless, the bill is now only in its third day of debate at third reading and there is every indication that the third reading and final stage would come to an end in debate in the House by the end of business tomorrow at the latest.
It is important to underscore what these dates are with respect to the budget. Remember that the House resumed in the final week of January. The budget was not presented to the House until March 19, fully eight weeks into the parliamentary sitting. That was followed by a ways and means motion and the introduction of the budget bill, but that was delayed because the government interrupted its own budget debate on the financial principles of the government.
Its budget was late, the budget debate was unilaterally delayed by itself and then it finally got around to introducing the budget bill on March 29, which was debated at second reading for the first time on March 30. It was then debated in a haphazard, sporadic fashion, brought forward to the floor by the government, until April 23, and then it was hoisted altogether. The House did not see it again until May 14, full three weeks later.
Finally, it went to the committee, not as a result of any filibuster by the opposition or any party in the opposition. The delay was entirely the procedural mismanagement of the government. It was there for less than two weeks and one of those weeks was a break week when Parliament was not even sitting.
It finally passed through the committee, rather expeditiously, thanks to the cooperation of the opposition, and it was brought back to be debated at report stage on June 4. For how long? One day, that is all the report stage took. Now it is at third reading where there have been three days of debate, and probably a conclusion could have been arrived at very easily by the end of the day tomorrow.
This is why I made the point at the beginning of my remarks that there really is nothing on this order paper that could not be dealt with in the ordinary course of business without the measure the government House leader has introduced. Obviously it is a tactic to blame the opposition for the delays that lie entirely within the control of the government.
What is it then? If it is not Bill C-52, what is it that causes the government to move the motion today? Despite frequent requests for the government to outline its realistic legislative priorities before the summer, all we have heard repeatedly from the government House leader and from others on the government's side is a flow of partisan rhetoric. Legislation has in fact been moving along through the House and through committees, despite the government's erratic management of its agenda.
In fact, the most controversial bill on the order paper, and this is what gives me perhaps a little hope here, is probably Bill C-30, the clean air act, as it has been revised by members of Parliament. Significantly, only the government has been stalling it up to now. However, now we will have some extra time, some extra hours of sitting every day beginning on Wednesday.
Can we then conclude that the extra time the government is seeking is to facilitate the work of the House in consideration of Bill C-30? I certainly hope so. It is in this fervent hope that I indicate to the House that my party, the official Liberal opposition, will support the minister's motion for the extension of hours.
In the time available, in addition to Bill C-52, which will probably be done tomorrow, and in addition to Bill C-30, which I hope the government has the courage to recall and put before the House once again, the official opposition also looks forward to making progress on Bill C-11, lowering freight rates for farmers, on Bill C-14, dealing with foreign adoptions, on Bill C-23, dealing with criminal procedure, on Bill C-29, dealing with Air Canada and the use of official languages, on Bill C-35, dealing with bail reform, on Bill C-47, dealing with the Olympic, on Bill S-6 and Bill C-51, dealing with land claims and on Bill C-40, the private member's legislation that would provide free postage for mail from Canada to our troops in Afghanistan.
Then there is an item that was referred to in question period today. This is the bill we are anxiously awaiting to see, the one dealing with wage earner protection. I hope the government will follow through on the commitment given in question period, that it will table the bill in amended form so it can be passed at all stages and brought into law before Parliament adjourns for the summer recess.
Let me mention one other matter, which is outstanding and which should be dealt with by the House, or at least dealt with by the government when the House is sitting. This is the examination undertaken a few weeks ago by Mr. Brown in connection with the matters that have been of great concern to Canadians in respect of the RCMP pension fund.
As we understand it, there is a report due from Mr. Brown on June 15. That was the original undertaking given by the Minister of Public Safety. It would be very important for us to know that the examination is on time, that we will hear from Mr. Brown on time, and that the Minister of Public Safety will take the step that he promised to take and make that report public immediately.
Perhaps the government might also consider, in whatever time that remains before the summer recess, reforming its approach to the mood in the House. The mood could be improved if the government would refrain from certain of its more hostile practices. For example: no more gratuitous attack ads, no more broken agreements on how witnesses will be heard, no more manuals about dirty tricks for disrupting parliamentary business, and no more devious games to misuse Standing Orders of the House. A little good old fashioned good faith could change the mood for the better.
June 5th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel on his erudition—let us not fear words—and on his willingness to dedicate himself so generously to the work of this House. He never declines an invitation to share his point of view, and I am sure that this is greatly appreciated by all of our colleagues.
Bill C-35 was the subject of much debate in the parliamentary committee. It seems to me that the underlying principle is a good one. The government is seeking to ensure that people who might be a menace to the safety of our fellow citizens cannot be released on bail before trial unless we can be certain that they do not present a danger to society. It is important to understand where Bill C-35 is coming from.
There are various stages in our criminal proceedings: arrest by a peace officer, court appearance, and preliminary hearing. At this stage, a magistrate or justice of the peace—in Quebec, at least—decides whether there is sufficient evidence to allow the Crown to take the matter to trial. So we have arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing and, of course, the trial. If the case involves murder or one of the offences set out in section 469 of the Criminal Code, there is a good chance that the trial will be held before a jury of the accused's peers, a group of individuals selected for that purpose.
If the case involves an offence set out in section 553 of Quebec's code, the trial takes place before the criminal and penal division of the Court of Quebec. There too, the stages are familiar: arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing, trial and, after that, sentencing submissions. Then, if necessary, a certain number of appeals processes are available.
The Bloc Québécois had some concerns about this bill. What does it say? We should start with the beginning. Under our legal system, bail is generally granted at the hearing stage. In some cases, though, bail cannot be granted by justices of the peace. Only superior court judges, that is to say, judges of the Superior Court of Quebec, can grant pretrial bail to an accused.
This occurs when a person is accused of a crime under section 469 of the Criminal Code. Justices of the peace cannot grant bail when the accused has violated the conditions of release. If a person is on probation, therefore, and is supposed to comply with a certain number of conditions but violates them, he cannot be given bail. For example, if a person is not supposed to be in possession of a firearm but is found with one, that person has failed to comply with one of his conditions of release and cannot be granted bail by a justice of the peace.
When someone is arrested by a police officer, taken before a justice of the peace and charged with an offence related to organized crime, of course, that person cannot be granted bail. For a very long time, all the organized crime related offences were listed in the Criminal Code. Actually it was not the Criminal Code but the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act where all the offences related to the possession of narcotics, drug trafficking, and the exportation and importation of narcotics were listed.
Around 1995, we had an extremely worrisome clash among criminal motorcycle gangs: the Hell’s Angels, the Rock Machine and the Bandidos. There were 35 Hell’s Angels chapters. It is not that there were an awful lot of them—just a few hundred people—but they were obviously very dangerous.
I can recall some conversations I had with senior public servants who thought that the criminal motorcycle gangs could be disbanded using just the existing conspiracy provisions in the Criminal Code. The former Bloc Québécois member for Berthier—Montcalm, who was elevated to the bench because of his great talents and had gone to law school at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s and 1990s, was our justice critic and was as convinced as I that new legislation was needed and some new provisions had to be added to the Criminal Code.
I remind the House that in the 1990s there was one thing that triggered our realization of the need to create new legislation in order to deal with criminal biker gangs. This was of course the car bomb attack that occurred in my area, Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, on August 9, 1995, and that took the life of young Daniel Desrochers. From then on, there was a call by citizens seeking anti-gang legislation. Obviously we could not follow Italy’s example, since Italy did not have to worry about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. In Canada, however, we had to be concerned about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, which—I would point out—was never ratified by the National Assembly when it was patriated in 1982.
I digress here to remind you that René Lévesque, one of the greatest premiers in the history of Quebec—as we all know—was opposed to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, because he was worried about language rights. There was the possibility of removing whole chunks of Bill 101, one of the first bills that René Lévesque had passed by his government following the adoption of the Referendum Act and, of course, an act on democratic election funding.
So we had to be concerned about the compatibility of the new provisions of the Criminal Code and the Canadian charter, which has never been accepted by the National Assembly because of the incompatibilities regarding language. Of course, with regard to section 27 respecting multiculturalism, there were some very great concerns. In any case, we will recall that René Lévesque became the spokesperson for this long line of premiers who wanted, before the charter was patriated, to give the National Assembly new powers. This was Jean-Jacques Bertrand’s position; it was Robert Bourassa’s position; it was Jean Lesage’s position; it was the position of Quebec’s intellectuals. Even a man like Claude Ryan who, as we know, was not a sovereignist, wanted there to be a new distribution of powers before patriating the Constitution, which was—we agreed—a colonial relic. Of course this was not normal, but it was not a priority.
I do not want to wander too far away—you know my discipline is legendary. Still, I want you to know that it is extremely important to remember that, in the 1990s, the Bloc Québécois rallied in order to obtain anti-gang legislation. The first anti-gang legislation was passed in 1997. We had created a new offence. I mentioned the Canadian charter. But it was not possible to make it a crime to belong to a group.
We cannot say that belonging to the Hells Angels, the Rock Machine, the Bandidos, the mafia or an Asian crime group, that simply belonging to a criminal organization constitutes an offence. This would never pass the Charter test and would not be compatible with the freedom of association. This was the challenge facing the public service and parliamentarians.
I was part of the committee that examined these things to find an offence that would work with the Charter. At the time, a new offence was created: gangsterism. Five individuals having committed an offence punishable by a five-year term, for a criminal organization within the last five years, could be charged with gangsterism.
As unbelievable as it may be, with these provisions, among others, municipalities can play an extremely important role in dismantling organized crime networks. I hope my colleagues will remember this. Municipalities legislated against bunkers. They legislated against fortresses in urban areas. Under municipal bylaws it was not possible to have fortified houses with cameras and bulletproof windows. Believe it or not, this is a good example of the link between federal law, criminal law, and municipal affairs.
If I may digress, one thing that makes a municipality dynamic is festivals. I am sure that the Minister of Labour will agree with me. There is nothing more important than tourism to our communities.
Take the example of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. It is a working-class neighbourhood with a rich heritage. I could tell you about the botanical garden and the Château Dufresne, the historic middle-class residence. It is important to provide public funding for festivals. I will conclude on this point by wishing all my colleagues a most cordial welcome to Montreal this year and this summer. I hope that the funding that will make it possible for us to spend a beautiful summer with tourists and all of the events we can organize in our communities will materialize. Of course I am counting on all of my colleagues to ensure that this scenario comes to pass.
This is the situation we found ourselves in in the 1990s. Criminal motorcycle gangs were running wild and the public was worried. I and other people persuaded the then justice minister, Allan Rock, to add new provisions to the Criminal Code. Those provisions made it possible for us to end the war that had caused several hundred deaths and claimed an innocent victim, Daniel Desrochers, who died on August 9, 1995.
Thus we can see that the Bloc Québécois has never been unwilling to legislate when it was necessary. The goal of Bill C-35 is to add a number of offences, the seriousness of which we can recognize as a society. I will list them: attempted murder with a firearm, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, armed sexual assault, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and any offence involving a firearm if the accused was under a firearms prohibition order.
We have to acknowledge that these offences are in fact serious in terms of criminal law. At the show cause stage, the trial has not yet been held. In Quebec, you appear before the justice of the peace. The accused will have to call evidence, because there is a reverse onus. Reverse onus does exist in the Criminal Code now, as I mentioned, for organized crime, terrorism offences and offences relating to section 469. Reverse onus exists. That does not mean—and we must be very clear on this point—that it will not be possible for the accused to be released.
What it means is that the onus is on the accused, and not the Crown, to prove that he or she is not a threat to society. The judge will then take a number of criteria into consideration.
If the individual is released, the judge must be sure he will appear for trial and will not destroy the evidence, abscond, reoffend or engage in violent behaviour. If the judge is satisfied that all these conditions will be met, in light of the submission by counsel for the accused, the individual can be released. If the judge is not satisfied, the individual—the accused—who will be tried for one of the offences I have mentioned, must remain in custody.
I repeat that this is not the rule in our legal system. As a rule, individuals are released pending trial. Hon. members may remember a famous ruling from early this decade, the Askov ruling, concerning a case in Ontario. The legal system was backlogged at the time.
When the Constitution was repatriated, the National Assembly did not subscribe to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among the legal guarantees in the charter is the right to be tried within a reasonable time. Waiting for a trial causes anyone anxiety. Waiting for a trial is stressful, and there is also the risk that witnesses' memories will fade. With time, people called to testify could be slightly less accurate in their testimony.
The Bloc Québécois heard the witnesses who testified before the committee, and my colleagues know how reasonable, moderate and cooperative the Bloc is. We ask only to work in the spirit of brotherhood.
I take great personal pride in the fact that I have no enemies in this House. Mr. Speaker, if you were to ask members who consider themselves my enemies to so indicate by a show of hands, I am sure you would see none. I was afraid the member for Jonquière—Alma would raise his hand. That would have made me sad.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35 because, in committee, witnesses told us that in any event, the general practice at bail hearings for firearm-related offences is for the judge not to release the individual, or grant them bail. The Minister of Justice's bill confirms or recognizes something already being done by judges and the courts.
We do not see why we would be against this bill. A witness from the Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers even told us this was the current practice. There are very few witnesses who oppose the bill, two in fact. A University of Toronto professor, Anthony Doob, opposed the bill, saying there needed to be more focus on prevention. The Canadian Bar Association also voiced some reservations. For the rest, the witnesses were extremely favourable toward the bill.
The Bloc will support this bill since it recognizes a practice the courts have formalized. Of course, that does not mean we are not calling on the government to invest in prevention.
I recently learned that the Prime Minister entrusted, not to the Minister of Health, but to the Minister of Justice, the modernization of the national anti-drug strategy. I hope when the format of this new strategy is known, hopefully a few months from now, that money could be sent to the provinces for prevention, which is still our best defence as a society for living in safer communities.
Since I am running out of time, I will stop here. I want to reiterate my call for money to be allocated to this summer's festivals, more specifically those in Montreal, which is a major tourism centre. I hope my call will be heard.
June 5th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON
Mr. Speaker, most members understood during the last election campaign that the Canadian public wanted some changes, but Bill C-35, in my opinion, is simply codifying what the justices of our country are doing already. In fact, to some extent, it is window dressing.
One of my concerns is that it is easy to run on a law and order platform, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that rehabilitation is one of the most important avenues of protecting the public, because we know that convicted criminals will one day be back on our streets. I ask the member if he would support the fact that it is essential for our government to make sure that rehabilitation gets equal time in its law and order platform.
June 5th, 2007 / 10:45 a.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Very fertile. You are entirely correct. Well, the Conservatives have a lot of imagination.
To protect the interests of Quebeckers and of the society passed down to us by the people who came before us, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35. We will also be very vigilant when it comes to the advances made by the Conservatives in relation to justice.
June 5th, 2007 / 10:30 a.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-35, the main purpose of which is to require an accused, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, to demonstrate that pre-trial detention is not justified in their case. This is a reverse onus, specifically for firearm-related offences.
From the outset I would like to present the philosophy defended in this House over the years by the Bloc Québécois. We are very respectful of the society handed down to us by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents. It is society's choice to say that we are innocent until proven guilty. And that is the society we inherited from those who came before us.
When a society is built on such a principle or such a philosophy, in other words the presumption of innocence, every time we challenge this presumption of innocence we are also challenging the very foundation of our society. We must do so sparingly and with all due respect to this system. We have to take our time weighing the matter. We have to avoid being swayed by the media frenzy surrounding crimes and try to protect the very foundation of our society.
Our neighbours to the south like to hold highly publicized trials that are the glory of television channels and other information networks because they can sell advertising. When these reports are filed—even special reports are filed—not only do the networks make money from the crime, they glorify it. This is not the type of society our ancestors left us. We have to try to be very circumspect and not be influenced by the media when it blows a specific case or matter out of proportion and tries to influence the entire justice system. That is what the Bloc Québécois opposes, out of great respect for the society we inherited from those who came before us. That is why, when it comes to discussing reverse onus, we like to get to the bottom of things.
In the past, we were very interested in certain specific cases, including the fight against organized crime. We proposed, in this House, reverse onus with respect to the proceeds of organized crime. Now, thanks to the Bloc Québécois' action, criminals are the ones who must prove that their money is not the proceeds of crime. It is not up to the State to prove that it is. This had been very difficult to do in some cases, because these people hired specialists to destroy all incriminating evidence and to prove that their fortunes had been legitimately acquired.
I think that reverse onus is good for society as a whole. The Bloc Québécois proposed this after conducting thorough research and realizing that the presumption of innocence did not work when it came to organized crime. The State's burden of proof made it impossible to find any evidence about how the money had been acquired.
In this case, from the very beginning, the Bloc Québécois has considered the matter carefully. During first and second reading, before the bill was referred to committee, the Bloc was against it because of the presumption of innocence and the fact that a person who is presumed innocent can be released on bail, and because it was up to the State to prove that the person should not be released on bail. After hearing all of the witnesses in committee, the Bloc Québécois eventually came to the conclusion that this bill reflects existing jurisprudence.
This bill does not actually change anything. People who have committed a crime with a firearm automatically remain in prison until they appear in court. This is why the Bloc Québécois, after having heard the witnesses and experts who came to shed light on the debate, quickly realized that in the end the bill reflected what actually happens.
In this connection, I will simply read the statement by one witness, William Trudell, Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. He said: “...it’s our experience on the ground that people charged with gun-related offences are not released”. That means that this bill is not proposing much of a change, contrary to what the government is letting on. It will not change things so as finally to reduce crime. No, this bill does no more than reflect what takes place at present, the current state of affairs in jurisprudence, that is, the court decisions. I will reread this statement by the Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers: “...it’s our experience on the ground that people charged with gun-related offences are not released”.
Bloc Québécois justice critics have said in this House that all the witnesses, almost unanimously, acknowledged this state of affairs. All the bill before us does therefore is acknowledge a practice in effect in Canada’s and Quebec’s courts of justice. They very quickly brought us around to this idea.
After having heard the witnesses, the experts in their fields, we are now in favour of bill C-35. The Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers knows what he is talking about. If the bill is acknowledging what actually takes place in the courts, we can only agree with that.
Furthermore, the Criminal Code already includes some exceptions to reverse onus in bail hearings. It talks about breach of bail conditions, organized crime—I was explaining the Bloc Québécois position earlier—terrorism, trafficking, smuggling and production of narcotics, murder, treason and war crimes. When someone commits one of these crimes, it is up to them to prove to the state, to the Crown, that they can be released, and not the other way round. It is not up to the Crown to prove to the judges that this person should not be released.
The following offences will be added to the exceptions to which the reverse onus applies: attempted murder with a firearm; discharging a firearm with intent to wound; sexual assault with a weapon; robbery; aggravated sexual assault; abduction; hostage taking; extortion; trafficking; possession for the purposes of trafficking; and any firearm-related offences committed when the accused was under an order prohibiting him from possessing a firearm.
Henceforth, people accused of any crime committed with a firearm will have to demonstrate to the Crown that they are not a danger to the lives of their fellow citizens in order to be granted pretrial release. This is actually an established practice, a reflection of what happens now in our legal system. Since this is what really happens, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of it.
However, we need to watch the Conservative government’s position very carefully, especially in regard to firearms. On the one hand, it has decided to eliminate the firearms registry, while on the other, it is reversing the onus of proof in crimes committed with a firearm.
This is important because it helps me further clarify our position on the gun registry: the Bloc Québécois is still in favour of keeping it. I know that some hunting enthusiasts are listening to me now.
In Quebec, 94% of gun owners have registered their guns in accordance with the law. The problem we have with the system is located in western Canada, where a majority of the citizens have not obeyed the law.
For all those people who registered their firearms, paying for renewal was a major irritant. The government decided, with the Bloc’s support, to eliminate this charge. We were happy with the government’s decision to keep the registry but not make users pay for it. In Quebec, 94% of firearm users registered their weapons and were quite happy to obey the law. That left 6%. Some got all worked up because they were told that the registry infringed on their rights. But people know that once their guns are registered, their rights will be respected. The people who use the registry, especially the police, do it before going to a certain address in order to determine whether there are any guns in the house, and if so, what kind.
When this is explained, citizens, even gun owners, fully understand that, in rare situations of violence, it is very important that the police have access to this information before they go to someone's home. If the registry were maintained and respected by all citizens, including Canadians in the west, there would be no problem. The problem is that there are gun users who decided to protest the system for a variety of reasons.
In Quebec, when I sit down with gun owners who have registered their weapons and I explain the situation, it does not bother them. They fully understand that this makes sense. If they committed violent crimes themselves, it would be important for the police to know that they have weapons at home, for the safety of police officers and the people in the neighbourhood.
In a society, we must set important benchmarks and make a distinction between individual and collective rights. Yes, every individual has rights, but their neighbours also have the right to know if they have any weapons, and for several reasons. The ideology that individual rights allow citizens to keep weapons in their homes, while others do not need to know about it, is an American ideology, common among our neighbours to the south.
But here, we have the right to create a society that protects individual rights and that allows citizens to own firearms for the purpose of a certain sport, for example. However, it is also important to know that the individual who practices that sport uses an attack weapon and that he or she can harm other individuals. This is important, even if it is a handgun used for hunting.
People talk to me about many things, such as duck hunting, where you use a .12 gauge shotgun. You can use this gun to rob a bank or corner store. You can do a lot of things. It is important to stop making that distinction and to look at the emotional capabilities of individuals. We have to look reality in the face. People have the right to practice a sport with a gun. However, they must realize that the community is entitled to know that they own guns in case there is a robbery at their home. It could be a case of home invasion. When the homeowner is away, someone could enter their home. It is important to know if there are guns inside the residence.
Things are always a little complicated with the Conservatives because we never know in what direction they are headed. One thing is certain. Increasingly they have this unfortunate tendency of aligning themselves with what is happening in the United States and with Americans. In relation to crime, that is not a model to be adopted. Let us not go there. Americans have increased sentences and they have more crime than in Canada. That is the reality.
That is not the type of society that our ancestors—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents—wanted to leave to us. The Bloc Québécois has a great deal of respect for this way of life that we have adopted. We will always be there to defend the interests of and respect for individuals in the justice system and to defend the presumption of innocence, among other things, which is one of the tenets of our society.
People are always presumed innocent until proven guilty. That has served us well in the past. Today, the problem is that the media have seized on that, as we have seen. I keep repeating this, and I know it may be a bit redundant, but the Americans and their media make a lot of money when a crime is committed by giving it as much media coverage as possible. That is not the sort of society we want to live in.
Clearly, when we make this distinction and take away all the media coverage of a crime, we need to be able to strike a balance and decide what type of society we want to live in. Quebeckers and Canadians have chosen to live in a society where people are presumed innocent.
As I explained, there are some cases that call for the presumption of innocence and others that call for the reversal of the traditional burden of proof. The Bloc Québécois did not hesitate to suggest reverse onus in cases such as crimes committed by biker gangs or organized crime, especially in relation to the accumulation of property by organized crime. At the time, the State had to prove that property had been acquired through the proceeds of crime, whereas now criminal organizations must prove that they acquired property legitimately.
Obviously, this has caused a major shift in how these people are defended. More and more, their property is being seized, and they have no money to defend themselves. I believe this is as it should be, because it was too easy for them to use this money to deny justice or thumb their noses at the justice system. They told themselves that they would get lawyers because they had money to go to court and so on. The Bloc Québécois therefore proposed a major step forward.
My colleagues heard witnesses and our critic, the member for Hochelaga, whom I commend on his excellent work on the committee. After hearing the witnesses, he realized that this bill was putting in place a reality that already existed in our courts. And witnesses told us that this bill will not change anything, because even now, when people commit crimes using a firearm, they are not released pending trial.
Once my learned colleague realized that this was the case, he recommended that we change our position and support this bill, which we are doing. We are serious democrats, we are very mindful of what is happening in Quebec society. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35.
However, this bill will still be very, very, very suspect in terms of the advances made by the Conservatives in relation to justice, because—I will say it again and it cannot be said often enough—they have this annoying tendency to become very Republican in how they interpret justice and very American-oriented when it comes to increasing minimum sentences and not giving our society or our judicial system a chance to hear the members of this House, and in fact filling up the prisons.
Believe it or not, the fastest-growing industry in the United States is prison construction. It is a very profitable industry and it is running very well, except that this is not the type of society that the Bloc Québécois wants. On the contrary, when we see the crime rate, we realize that crime does not go down when sentences go up. It is a proven fact: crime goes up. In fact, when a criminal has decided to commit a crime, the criminal does not bother to read the Criminal Code before committing the crime, to know what sentence he or she is going to get. Forget about that. If people think that, their imaginations are—